‘The students hooked me’: Meet La Salle’s provost and vice president of academic affairs

March 16, 2023

Shivanthi Anandan, Ph.D., is focused on student retention, student success, and academic rigor.  

Once Shivanthi Anandan, Ph.D., walked in through the gates on Olney Avenue and heard the College Hall bell tower ring out over campus, she was at home at La Salle University.  

“This is a wonderful urban campus, an oasis in Northwest Philadelphia with spirituality pouring out from the bells that ring every quarter hour. That spirituality connected me directly to the university’s mission and brought me in. And of course, the students hooked me and pulled me in deep,” she said.  

Anandan began her role as Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs last August. She brought to La Salle decades of higher education experience with her, most recently as Drexel University’s vice provost of undergraduate education.   

La Salle’s newest Provost said she was drawn to this position because of the Lasallian mission and the University’s tradition of providing a strong liberal arts education. In her role, Anandan provides leadership to academic programs by overseeing curriculum, academic standards, and program creation, while also optimizing systems and processes for academic affairs. She also promotes faculty development, instructional and learning support, and student academic success and achievement, among other responsibilities.  

The most important and vital task for Anandan, she said, is developing and implementing a vision for La Salle’s academic programs and portfolio to showcase the quality, rigor, and innovation that exist here. The Provost aims to do this by advocating for and growing the University’s teaching excellence. She wants to foster a collaborative environment in which students work closely with faculty members inside as well as outside the classroom, with faculty as advisors and mentors outside of traditional learning times and spaces.  

“I want our teaching excellence to be elevated further so we are recognized as one of the premier educational institutions in the region, nationally, and globally,” she said.  

Another initiative she is working on? A partnership with Gabrielle St. Léger, Ed.D., La Salle’s Vice President of Student Development and Campus Life, to lead a student persistence and success committee—or PASS team. The committee hears from all corners of the University on items pertaining to academic successes, residential and campus life updates, and promotion of Starfish. A digital platform, Starfish allows students to receive a variety of resources related to student academic success. It allows for appointment making, goal setting, tutoring, financial assistance, advising and more and connects students directly to their advisers, faculty and success coaches. This platform is a critical tool in aiding in the persistence of La Salle’s students. 

“That’s an initiative that I think is going very well and gathering steam,” Anandan said.  

“I want our teaching excellence to be elevated further so we are recognized as one of the premier educational institutions in the region, nationally, and globally.” 

– Shivanthi Anandan, Ph.D, Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs

While the PASS team was initially formed in Fall 2021, it’s been redefined since Anandan’s arrival to better serve the University community and include campus members whose strengths can help accomplish its mission. Currently, the team meets bi-weekly.  

“The PASS Team was the necessary iteration of our retention and belonging work as a University that, like most, was coming out of remote learning and remote college life away from campus due to COVID-19,” St. Léger said. “The design of the PASS team is based on research that outlines persistence efforts for universities to consider from Watson Scott Swail, Kenneth Redd, and Laura Perna.”  

The committee takes into consideration elements that are critical to student persistence and success which include financial aid, recruitment and admissions, academic services, curriculum and instruction, and student services. All these components work to drive a student monitoring system throughout the lifespan of the student, St. Léger said.  

St. Léger said Anandan’s approach to the PASS team has helped tremendously and they have a great partnership.  

“Dr. Anandan cares about our students here at La Salle and has a student centric mindset without compromising her faculty lens she holds from her extensive career teaching and researching,” she said. “So, our collaboration has been energizing and a breath of fresh air. To have a partner who truly cares about the holistic experience for our students sitting in the seat of the Provost is a blessing. She balances well with me as she brings in the needs of the faculty to support students in their curricular journey while we discuss the external supports beyond the classroom needed for student success, and the overall pipeline of recruiting the students to La Salle that we can truly support through to graduation.”  

The PASS team will exist long-term to tackle retention, persistence, and student success. St. Léger said it will continue to adapt to students’ needs.  

“The goal is to increase our retention and persistence rates and there is always room for improvement in this area as an institution,” she said.  

Anandan’s area of expertise is as a plant biologist with specialties in microbiology, algal systems, and photosynthetic organisms. She’s previously enjoyed being in the classroom teaching courses centered around plants and microbes in society.   

Shivanthi Anandan, Ph.D.,
delivers welcoming remarks
at the 2023 Women in Leadership
Award reception in March.

Anandan also hopes to expand her work with students while serving as La Salle’s Provost in a few years to the classroom, offering a few courses and directly joining the charge of fostering academic excellence. She received her Ph.D. in biology from University of California, Los Angeles, and a bachelor of science in botany from the University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka. She is also the recipient of the Charles R. and Mary F. Lindback Foundation’s Excellence in Teaching award. 

The energy and the challenge students provide excite Anandan the most. As Provost, she’s already interacted with several groups of students, calling the La Salle students “resilient, spirited and determined.” 

“My favorite saying to students is that I did not have a straight path here,” she explained. “I had a ‘curved’ path with many decision points, turns and forks in the road. Looking back, I’m so glad I experienced different opportunities. I’ve enjoyed most of them and learned a lot from them. Sometimes, In the moment, at a decision point or fork in the road, maybe it was like, ‘what?’; now I can say that my path let me make decisions at every point that suited me.”   

And as the first woman of color to serve as University Provost at La Salle she points out that it illustrates to students that their University is a welcoming place to all, and one that will prepare them to do whatever they want in life. 

—Meg Ryan